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Family farm in Milton-Freewater wiped out by flood

The North Fork of the Walla Walla River is flowing through Ginger and Brian Afdahl’s property, but government regulations won’t allow them to push it back to its original channel.

By JADE McDOWELL

EO Media Group

Published on February 8, 2018 9:34AM

Dalana Murphy and her future mother-in-law, Ginger Afdahl, walks through flood waters from the North Fork Walla Walla River running through their farm Wednesday outside of Milton-Freewater. The North Fork Walla Walla River broke its banks Sunday evening inundating their small ranch with more than a two feet of water in some places.

E.J. Harris/EO Media Group

Dalana Murphy and her future mother-in-law, Ginger Afdahl, walks through flood waters from the North Fork Walla Walla River running through their farm Wednesday outside of Milton-Freewater. The North Fork Walla Walla River broke its banks Sunday evening inundating their small ranch with more than a two feet of water in some places.

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Hogs sit on pallets placed in their pen to giving the animals a dry place to escape the flood waters on Wednesday at the Afdahl’s ranch on the North Fork Walla Walla River east of Milton-Freewater.

E.J. Harris/EO Media Group

Hogs sit on pallets placed in their pen to giving the animals a dry place to escape the flood waters on Wednesday at the Afdahl’s ranch on the North Fork Walla Walla River east of Milton-Freewater.

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Mug, an Australian shepherd-border collie mix, walks on a pile of debris caught in a fence line as flood waters rush by Wednesday at the Afdahl’s ranch east of Milton-Freewater.

E.J. Harris/EO Media Group

Mug, an Australian shepherd-border collie mix, walks on a pile of debris caught in a fence line as flood waters rush by Wednesday at the Afdahl’s ranch east of Milton-Freewater.

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Flood waters more than two feet deep in some places covered this pasture at the Afdahl ranch east of Milton-Freewater.

E.J. Harris/EO Media Group

Flood waters more than two feet deep in some places covered this pasture at the Afdahl ranch east of Milton-Freewater.

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The North Fork Walla Walla River flowing over the property line, roughly where the fallen tree is, of the Afdahl’s ranch Wednesday east of Milton-Freewater.

E.J. Harris/EO Media Group

The North Fork Walla Walla River flowing over the property line, roughly where the fallen tree is, of the Afdahl’s ranch Wednesday east of Milton-Freewater.

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What man takes years to build, Mother Nature can wipe out in a day.

Ginger and Brian Afdahl are learning that lesson the hard way after unusual weather patterns caused the North Fork of the Walla Walla River to wash through their 10-acre homestead east of Milton-Freewater, Ore. Feb. 4. The couple had spent decades investing in improvements to the property, only to watch the river turn it into a tangle of broken irrigation lines, waterlogged equipment and uprooted fences.

“Thirty years of work, and within one night, everything is gone,” Ginger said.

The river continues to flow through the property, carving a deeper and deeper channel. But the Afdahls say they have had to turn away friends’ offers of pushing it back into its proper channel with backhoes because of government regulations meant to protect fish habitats, particularly requirements for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for any work to change or “re-align” a stream’s path.

“They say we can’t run any equipment in the river, and right now my property is the river,” Ginger said.

She said they are working with state agencies to figure out what they need to do to fix the problem and what government help might be available. Beyond destruction of property, Ginger said there’s also the problem of the property’s lease, which defines the property line as halfway across the river. If the river doesn’t move back to its previous channel, she said, there goes half their property.

The National Weather Service in Pendleton has been issuing flood advisories for the Walla Walla River east of Milton-Freewater due to rains and early snowmelt caused by the unusually warm February weather, and on Wednesday issued an updated advisory cautioning that “minor flooding is expected to continue through Thursday and impact residential property and fields along and near the river.”

Flooding at the Afdahls’ property on North Fork Walla Walla River Road started Sunday. Ginger said she had been with her son and husband outside, then went inside for about an hour before her son poked his head in and said, “Mom, you’d better come out here.” What had been a trickle an hour before was now a flood, and soon her six-foot-tall son was waist-deep in water as they worked to move the animals and whatever else they could to the small portion of the property not flooding.

“We were out there until dark,” Ginger said. “I ended up putting my baby goat in my bathtub in my house because she was going to be under water.”

The water has receded somewhat, but Ginger said on Feb. 7 that family members would be working until dark for days to come to try and gather up items washed downstream and repair pasture fences no longer able to contain their goats, sheep, pigs and horse. A shed full of personal storage is totally waterlogged, but she said they don’t have the space yet to pull everything out, spread it out to dry and figure out what might be salvaged.

She said the family doesn’t have flood insurance, because nothing like this has ever happened in 30 years on the property. Their son Chance Afdahl has started a GoFundMe account online at www.gofundme.com/help-for-brian-and-ginger-afdahl to collect donations









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